Updated 06/24/22. For many of us, summer means spending more time outside. You already know you should be applying (and reapplying) sunscreen, wearing sun-protective clothing, and seeking shade when possible. Unfortunately, though, no matter how diligent you are about sun protection, you’ll still be exposed to free radical damage. And that can aggravate and inflame your skin. It might not cause a visible sunburn, but it can lean your skin in a less-than-ideal condition.
Of course, spending time outside is one of the great joys of summer, so I’m certainly not suggesting you hole up inside! (If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I spend a lot of time outdoors!) Instead, keep reading for my guide to skincare after sun exposure. Follow this advice, and your skin will feel refreshed and revived in no time.
How Does Sun Exposure Affect the Skin? Spotting Signs of UV Damage
Most people tend to think that sunburn is the only sign of excessive sun exposure. However, the reality is that spending all day outside can trigger damage even if you don’t get a visible sunburn. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that it’s impossible to avoid UV rays completely (especially UVA rays), and the second is you’re still being exposed to pesky free radicals.
Since the other signs of UV exposure are more subtle than a sunburn, they can be a little bit harder to pick up on—unless you know what to look for.
Skin Feels Tight (Dehydrated)
When you’re out in the heat and your internal temperature increases, it can lead to lower water levels in the skin—also known as dehydration. Exposing your skin to a combination of heat and UV rays can also disrupt the natural moisture barrier, which is yet another trigger for dehydration. If you’re swimming, remember that salt water and chlorine can have a drying effect as well.
Not sure how to tell if your skin is dehydrated? Keep an eye out for skin that feels tight and “thirsty,” is drinking up moisture really quickly, and appears crinkly or shiny. Watch this video to see what dehydrated skin looks like.
Pigmentation Becomes More Visible (Freckles, Melasma, and Sun Spots)
It’s a well-known fact that sun exposure is a major trigger for pigmentation, whether that’s freckles, melasma, or sun spots. Something you might not know, however, is that heat can have the same effect. This means that even if you stay out of the sun, simply being outside when it’s hot can cause pigmentation. It’s not great news, I know, but it’s not all bad. Here are my expert tips for preventing summer sun spots.
Skin Becomes Red or Blotchy
Not all skin tones are prone to visible redness, but this can be one of the signs of excessive sun exposure. Blotchiness and redness can be a sign that your body is sourcing blood flow to damaged tissues and may indicate that you almost got a sunburn. Bear in mind that the redness you experience might not be constantly visible. Instead, it may present itself as temporary flushing, like the kind that happens after a hot shower or while you’re doing your skincare routine.
Once again, the sun isn’t the only culprit. Simply being out in the heat can also open up capillaries, which can increase blood flow to damaged tissues. The result? Redness becomes even more visible.
Skin Feels Warm to the Touch
A sign you’ve gotten too much sun exposure is skin that feels warm to the touch. That’s because heat can linger in the skin and make it feel warmer than it normally would. This can, in turn, increase skin sensitivity and worsen the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Finally, keep in mind that even if your skin isn’t showing any of these signs, you can still benefit from following these tips after spending some serious time outdoors!
Skincare After Sun Exposure
Here are my best tips for reviving your skin after a day of fun in the sun.
1. Cool Your Skin Down Once You’re Indoors
As I said before, sun exposure isn’t the only thing you have to worry about in the summer. Being in the heat and having your body’s internal temperature increased can cause all sorts of problems, including dehydration, hyperpigmentation, and redness. The way to combat this is simple. Cool your skin down as soon as you get back inside. There are several ways you can do this.
- Apply something cold to your skin. This could be a jade roller you keep in the fridge or if you want to get fancy, cryo tools. Of course, I also love going the opposite route and using a simple cold compress or a trusty bag of frozen peas. Just make sure you put something between the bag and your skin to keep it protected.
- Turn your favorite toner into ice cubes. I love doing this during the summer, and it’s super easy. All you need is your favorite alcohol-free toner and an ice tray. Voila!
- Keep your skincare products in the fridge. While I don’t think skincare fridges are a necessity by any means, some products can feel really nice on the skin when they’re cold. Learn which skincare products to keep in the fridge.
- Take a cold shower. This might be the least glamorous of all the options, but a nice, cold shower never fails to cool down the skin!
2. Hydrated with a Gel-Based Mask
Moving on to skincare products, the first thing I recommend to anyone after being in the sun is a gel-based mask. These are great for replenishing water levels in the skin to combat barrier damage and dehydration. I love a gel mask that also includes soothing ingredients, like the Rapid Response Detox Masque, to really help bring down any irritation in the skin. (This is one of the products I love to keep in the fridge!)
3. Load Up on Antioxidants
When you’re out in the sun, your skin is in defense mode. Once out of the sun, it goes into repair mode. You’ll want to do everything you can to aid in that process. One of the best ways to do this is to load up on antioxidants and apply them to your skin both during and after sun exposure. Antioxidants are a powerhouse when it comes to protecting your skin from cellular damage caused by free radicals. Learn how antioxidants work and why you should include them in your skincare routine.
4. Use Ingredients that Calm and Soothe
Speaking of aiding your skin’s natural repair processes, you’ll want to focus on using products with ingredients that calm and soothe the skin. This will help counteract some of the inflammation that’s been triggered and, as I like to say, “put out the fire.”
Here are a few ingredients I love for soothing upset skin:
- Algae Extract (especially red marine algae)
- Vitamin E
- Water Lily Extract (Nymphaea alba)
- Green Tea Extract
Skincare Ingredients to Avoid After Being in the Sun
Now let’s talk about what NOT to use. Here are some of the ingredients and types of products you’ll want to avoid after spending a day in the sun:
- Exfoliating acids
- Physical scrubs
- Retinol products (learn how to safely use retinol during summer)
You want to avoid these types of products after being in the sun because they can be quite stimulating. Your skin is already over-stimulated (and probably inflamed) from all the free radical activity, so the goal should be to soothe, calm, and coddle it.
You should aim to lay off these ingredients and products for two days post-sun. That said, it’s always important to listen to your skin and make sure it doesn’t seem irritated before adding these products back in. (If you’re dealing with an actual sunburn, you’ll want to wait until your skin is completely healed (you shouldn’t experience any redness, peeling, stinging, or itching whatsoever).
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skin care expert has created a real-world solution — products that are formulated for nine different types of skin so your face will get exactly what it needs to look and feel its best. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”